Poor Roy Hodgson. Four games, four wins, a six point lead, a double figure goal difference and still the national radio phone-ins vibrate with rage at his performance as England manager.
Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Slovenia made it practically impossible for England to fail to qualify for Euro2016, but you wouldn’t have thought that when you heard the fury of some of the fans.
“A joke, an absolute joke,” was just one damning verdict. How wrong can you be? Jokes are funny, they evolve with every telling, they bring people together and unite them with joy and with laughter.
It would be more accurate to say that England are a chore, an absolute chore. They are not funny, and they hang over you like a storm cloud. They are just something you get out of the way as swiftly as possible.
This whole group is a chore, it became so when England beat Switzerland away from home in the first game. That was an excellent result against a team that had been sporadically impressive in the World Cup and it practically ensured qualification from what might be the weakest group in the competition.
From that moment, the next 12 months were only ever going to be a series of tests in not screwing up, tests that England do not always pass.
There are plenty of reasons to kick Hodgson, but it feels churlish to do so now. The football isn’t good and nor is it fun, but it is effective. There are plenty of other nations in Europe who would be more than happy with a dull, but perfect record. Germany, Spain and Holland to name just three.
Hodgson is an easy man to kick. Only a handful of people could say with a straight face that he is their ideal England manager. He does not have the warmth of Sir Bobby Robson nor does he have Terry Venables’ beguiling combination of tactical versatility and cockney chirpiness.
There is none of the sophistication or hope that came with the appointment of Glenn Hoddle. There is no gleaming pile of silverware as there was with Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello. Hodgson has experience, for sure, but they’re not all good experiences.
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Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue the case for change given that there are so few obvious successors-in-waiting. While there would be a certain fascination in appointing Sam Allardyce just to see what happens, the fact remains that there are only eight English managers in the Premier League and none of them are noticeably more successful than Hodgson.
Only one of them has won a major trophy, but for mysterious reasons known only to themselves, the Football Association are unwilling to put Harry Redknapp under the intense media scrutiny that comes with this particular role.
FA Chairman Greg Dyke hasn’t ruled out the possibility of recruiting a foreign manager, opening the door to Jose Mourinho or Arsene Wenger, but that does feel a bit like cheating.
Outside of that, there’s Gareth Southgate of the unstoppable-until-last-night U21 team and Gary Neville of the persuasive punditry. Would you really rip everything up now and sack Hodgson just to parachute one of them into the role? Not yet.
In 2012, Hodgson’s England just about surpassed reasonable expectations by qualifying in first place from a tough group and departing on penalties in the next round.
Ordinarily, this would be par for the course, but given that Hodgson only had a matter of weeks to prepare and had to deal with the fall out of the Terry vs Ferdinand affair, it could have been far worse.
In 2014, there were no such caveats. England had all the preparation and stability required and, while the first hour against Italy was spirited, if not particularly smart, it was downhill from there.
The goalless draw with Costa Rica, a match that ended with England frantically trying to make that Gerrard - Lampard axis work one last time, was embarrassing. But then Luis Suarez got peckish and all analysis was lost in the ensuing noise.
The time for judging and removing Hodgson, if we saw fit, was then. The window has closed. You can’t sack a man with a 100% record, no matter how unchallenging the group.
We can’t judge him now until 2016 when he faces serious opposition in serious conditions, so we may as well just buckle up and endure the ride.
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